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Appropriate outfits for a Jewish ceremony

Dress purr-fectly for a bar mitzvah

for The Brooklyn Paper

Everyone has a natural fear of wearing the wrong thing. Even Lady Gaga would ponder whether or not her meat suit should be kosher before heading to a bar mitzvah ceremony.

To many, a synagogue and its customs are unfamiliar territory, so there’s a good chance that a portion of your guests are not quite sure what attire is appropriate for a Jewish ceremony. And no one wants to become a religious fashion disaster. Not even Gaga.

For those who want to avoid a blasphemous faux pas, let’s run through some common scenarios in an attempt to help the bar mitzvah’s most bewildered avoid the temple of doom.

If you are non-Jewish guest

You have it easy. Unless the service is taking place at Temple Beth Woodstock where Birkenstocks would be all the rage, a nice suit or dress (you can figure out which one) is perfect. You should probably avoid dresses that are really low cut or show bare shoulders (that goes for the guys as well).

Inside the temple, it is usually required that men — Jewish or not — wear a kippah, also called a yarmulke by Jews over 145 years old. Don’t have a kippah? Not a problem. Just look around. There is usually a basket or other container full of kippot (yup, plural for kippah) for guests to use.

If you are a Jewish guest

Next, let’s tackle the tallit. If you’re not Jewish, you get a pass on this one. Otherwise, a prayer shawl, called either a tallit or tallis, is traditionally worn by Jewish men, and now increasingly by women as well. Here’s where it might get tricky. There are significant differences in customs among the various Jewish denominations. In a Conservative synagogue, most guys and some women will wear a tallit during services. On the other hand, you might not see anyone with a tallit in a Reform service. Generally, it’s considered acceptable to sit in the congregation without a tallit, even if most people are wearing one, or if you’re uncomfortable putting one on.

If you are a guest receiving an honor

First off, mazel tov! If you are receiving an honor during the service, you are someone who is important to the bar mitzvah — most likely a close friend or relative.

Here are some general guidelines for this kind of situation, yet it would be in your best interest to ask the host family about their temple’s specific requirements.

If you have an honor, you’ll likely be going up on the bimah (the raised area in front of the congregation where all the action takes place). Some temples require that all participants, male or female, have their heads covered. While guys will almost certainly already be wearing a kippah, the women sometimes wear those lace doily-looking things, which are actually called “chapel caps” (you can’t make this stuff up!).

If you are being called up to the Torah to receive an aliyah, the temple might require you to wear a tallit as well, out of respect for the Torah.

Confused? Ready to put on your jeans and skip the whole thing?

Here’s your safety net: most pros on the bimah have seen it all, and are ready to help you. If you come up for your aliyah without the required tallit, we won’t sound the fashion alarm and make you do the walk of shame back to your seat. Instead, we’ll just take an extra tallit that we keep up there and let you wear it.

A cantor is a lot like a maitre d’ at a fine restaurant that keeps a spare blazer handy.

And that’s about it! Quick, painless, and easier than learning how to knot a tie.

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Reader Feedback

Allan from London Ont. says:
My wife and I are attending a bar mitzvah hosted by religious relatives, while I know what 2 wear, my wife is not sure because she 's afraid 2 offend th host, any suggestions?
Sept. 5, 2018, 6:53 pm

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